Cellphone antennas inside a new, taller Epworth Methodist Church steeple could be completed and operational in as little as six months, according to the contractor who’s representing AT&T on the deal.
But the telephone giant is taking the process more slowly now that some community members have expressed concern about the facility, said Carolyn Gould, project manager for RETEL Services, a company that navigates siting and regulatory issues for cell antennas.
Gould agreed to appear with AT&T officials at a CPNO monthly meeting to answer questions and receive input, but the date for that appearance hasn't yet been set.
“If it can work out, it can be beautiful,” she said of the project. She argued that the Epworth antennas would improve cell coverage within Candler Park, while at the same time relying on relatively low power and also being placed inside a tower that would be architecturally consistent with the existing church. “If you’re moving into a home and you have five bars of coverage, and you can’t see an antenna nearby ... I cannot imagine that not being a benefit.”
The new steeple would rise approximately 100 feet from street level. It would house antennas for AT&T and possibly one or two other providers inside a special building material that allows the radiofrequency, or RF, waves to be transmitted. Ground-level equipment, which doesn't emit radio waves, would be housed behind a new brick wall adjacent to the rear of the church building.
Before construction starts, the project must complete a Federal Communications Commission registration process, which already has begun. That process includes a review by the state Historic Preservation Division to ascertain the impact on historic structures or districts.
The extended tower also would require a Special Administrative Permit for zoning through the City of Atlanta. The application for that permit requires an opportunity for Neighborhood Planning Unit review and comment, which appears to be the most likely route for public input from Candler Park residents.
From there, the project would need a building permit to proceed, and construction could be completed in as little as two months, Gould said.
“We’re almost ready to submit for zoning,” Gould said, “but I think we’re putting that on hold right now [because AT&T officials] want to solicit input.”
Gould said the lease negotiated between the Epworth board and RETEL includes an option allowing AT&T to back out of the project.
Meanwhile, some Candler Park residents — including parents at Epworth’s preschool — expressed anger Wednesday and Thursday that they hadn’t been consulted on the church’s plans earlier. They were particularly upset because reports of the lease broke just as parents were re-enrolling their children for pre-school. Epworth Dayschool Director Amy Zaremba did offer Thursday, however, to refund any enrollment fees to parents who were pulling their children out because of the antenna project.
At the heart of the parents' concerns are the positions of some researchers and activists that radiofrequency waves from cell towers pose health risks. While mainstream science and regulatory organizations do warn of possible cancer risks from RF waves emitted by mobile phones, they regularly note that even people who live near cellphone antenna are exposed to tiny fraction of waves compared to those emitted by normal usage of the phones themselves.
The FCC, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society, the International Agency for the Research on Cancer, and other mainstream groups have not classified cell antennas as a cancer or health risk.
This post has been edited slightly since it was first published.